Dirt under his nails? Whatever, that’s manly and rugged. Clean nails that are well-trimmed? He’s got nice nails for a dude. Painted nails? Whoa, wait, what??
In a class full of women, I think we forget to mention how men get involved in beauty, and how gendered beauty shapes what guys can and cannot do. Reading Lauren’s post about the press-on nails and the “revolution” ad campaign for the product, I was reminded of another nail product that I had seen somewhere in the past.
Alpha Nail is a nail polish for men, though the term “nail polish” rarely occurs. Instead, Alpha Nail is described as “war paint” that is “for strength, for style, for swagger, for protection, or to cover up your fugly toenails.” It is “uber-masculine” with a color selection ranging from the hilarious (“Cocaine” and “Gasoline”) to the majestic (“Celtic Silver” and “Deep Ocean”). It also comes in a totally inconspicuous applicator that looks like some art student’s fancy $20 marker. The web site also sells its own nail polish remover wipes (aceton-free, for those strong nails!) because “[n]o self respecting [sic] man should ever have to buy cotton balls.” Mixed martial arts fighters like Nick “The Ghost” Gonzalez and Roger Huerta endorsing Alpha Nail really put the bow on top of this hyper-manly version of the traditional female manicure.
This brings me back to Kathy Peiss, who explains that “men interested in beautifying had to defend themselves against insinuations of frivolity, weakness, and homosexuality” (159). That statement was applied to men in the 1930s, but that idea persists—and maybe it’s even become more extreme since then. Alpha Nail hits those three targets. (1) Frivolity is countered by the easy pen application that allows guys to “[j]ust click, paint, put the cap on, and its ready to go for another round.” (2) The product description is riddled with words like “strength,” “durable,” “protection,” and “hard.” (3) Guys don’t have to deal with “daintly little brushes,” “girly nail polish containers,” and “fluffy sack[s] of cotton balls.” The visual images of MMA fighters, manual workers, and athletes is also a marketing tactic that bears resemblance to the way that some cosmetics companies tried to sell their products to men in “health clubs, gyms, and sporting goods stores—in a misplaced attempt to avoid a ‘gay image’”(264).
On one hand, I applaud men who want to beat the stigma surrounding men and nail polish. More power to ya. On the other, isn’t this just another iteration of a gendered dichotomy? Sure, go ahead and appropriate nail polish and create your own system of meanings. That’s fine with me. But I cannot get over how antagonistic the language is toward women and how aggressively hetero-normative it is. Are those laden insecurities that I sense?
Weirdly, though, and against all my expectations, there is little allusion to sexuality. There is one blurry picture of a smitten and possibly unclothed woman (you only see her from the shoulders up). In a how-to video with Nick “The Ghost” Gonzalez, there are some pin-up posters in the background of a how-to video.
At the end of the video, he claims that what’s easier than applying the nail polish is getting the chicks afterward (cue a scantily clad lady in heals and one-piece bathing suit) who can later do your nails herself. That’s about it. But you have to click around to see any of that. Compared to other ads for men’s products that blatantly paste everywhere desperate and enamored women (refer to Axe or any dandruff shampoo), this is kind of a breath of fresh air. WAIT–after further investigation, I found other campaign images that were not on the web site.
I presume this used to be on their website, so I wonder what influenced the shift away from images of sex.
What do you think about Alpha Nail? Is this a step forward for guys’ self-expression or a step back for vanity? How do we advertise beauty products to men that isn’t misogynistic or hyper-masculine?
Peiss, Kathy. Hope in a Jar The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998).